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Whose History?

So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight.

- Acts 1:6-9

Much ado is made about the telling of history these days. Sundry scholars and writers are eager to rewrite history in whatever manner deemed most advantageous to them. I get that. Generally speaking, when a matter of interest arises, I figure everyone is inclined to want the telling to serve our purposes, if at all possible. That said, while interpretations may differ, I think we go too far when we try to change the facts of history, whether our own or that of nations. Still, this altering of history is a habit more widely shared than we realize. For example, how many of us know the significance of our Lord’s Ascension forty days after His Resurrection? Tomorrow, May 18, is Ascension Day in Western Christianity (Eastern Christianity being on a slightly different calendar). If the Ascension of Christ is not a day of worship and thanksgiving for us, then our true history has been rewritten.

The Ascension of Christ is an event of historical importance for the whole of the cosmos, but I suspect most of us do not understand why – to our loss. We are so eager to hear that Christ encourages and strengthens us for daily living that we have forgotten what our daily lives are to be about. A great deal of our routine energy is expended on worldly matters, matters that direct us toward the end we perceive to be most valuable, at least for now. We forget that everyday life is the unfolding drama of human history, and however mundane life may appear, it occurs within a particular context directed toward a particular conclusion.

My guess is that we are in the middle of a major shift in human history right now with little chance of it ending well. A people cannot live in contradiction to their Creator – acknowledged or not – and mock and degrade God for very long. Whether it’s the wrath of God or simply the consequence of sin, the outcome is the same. The people will devolve to external war and internal conflict as greed and lust give way to authoritarian rule. Therefore, Christians want to be certain we order our lives according to the Gospel, and we especially want to locate our lives in the context of our Lord’s Ascension.

Christians live in God’s story, not in a story and history organized by human knowledge and design. As I said, facts do not change, but our understanding changes dramatically when we are able to look at history through the lens of God’s activity instead of through the purposes of the folks doing the telling. The standard way of seeing human history is as a progressive sequence in stages or epochs, think: antiquity, medieval, and modern. Interestingly, Western thought is fairly unique in believing human history is moving toward some end. The reason is because the West was shaped by Christianity, which is indeed heading toward a specific conclusion. Secular thought in the West, however, does not accept the same conclusion revealed through Christianity and therefore, does not even understand its own direction. Hold that thought for a moment…

History as seen through Christian revelation is a mixture of divine and human action accompanied by spiritual forces, but ultimately, God is sovereign over the whole of creation including the entire human race. That is what it means when we say that God created all that is, seen and unseen. The Creator of all is sovereign over all, and He is especially sovereign over human life, history, and destiny. Christian history can be told in simple (though never simplistic) steps according to God’s activity and our rebellion. God created; we sinned; Jesus saved and redeemed; the Spirit spread across space and time; Jesus returns. That’s it. Creation, fall, salvation, return.

Consider the manner in which our calendar was written, and the influence of Christ’s salvation is obvious. The Western calendar marks days and centuries in AD and BC, that is, Anno Domini, (the Year of the Lord) and Before Christ. In other words, time is divided by the arrival of God in our midst in Jesus Christ. Other religions, including Judaism and Islam, have their own calendars, but in the Western world and with Western international influence, the calendar used for international commerce and agreements is set according to the Incarnation of God. When we think about it, what could be more appropriate to the Creator than for the whole of human history to be defined by the Son’s Incarnation?

Today, academics and pundits encourage the use of CE and BCE instead of the traditional AD and BC in the hope we will forget why time divided in that century. The acronyms CE and BCE mean Common Era and Before Common Era, respectively, which is odd when we think about it. The only thing common to that era was the Incarnation of the Son in Jesus Christ, as well as the salvation of the world effected on the Cross and in the Resurrection. That is what is common to that era. Everything else is incidental to the work of God in Jesus Christ. Any other effort to define a common era in the first century is an attempt to obscure the truth of Jesus Christ and His impact.

The reason we need to know this is because the end toward which we are headed was implied in the Resurrection and made explicit in the Ascension. Following the Resurrection of Jesus, the disciples were still waiting for Him to restore the Jewish Kingdom. When He ascended, they stood there in shock and likely some disappointment that this death-defeating God wasn’t going to abolish the Roman Empire and reestablish the Davidic throne. But that is not what God was doing. He was saving His creation – especially His image, His created human beings – for the Kingdom to come, the Kingdom in which there is no more pain, nor sorrow, nor crying because the union of God and creation will be fully restored and renewed.

The fact that there are not multiple steps and epochs of advancement tells us something about ourselves that we need to remember. We are not the pinnacle of everything that has gone before us. People who lacked the technology we enjoy were not lesser beings of lesser intelligence, and if Christ doesn’t return soon, there will be more learning and more technology in the future that will reveal how little we know now. Likewise, it does no good to stand and look for Christ to come make everything right in our world. He’s already done so, and our task is to live what is true and right and good, and to share the joy, the hope, and the wonder of living life as God’s children with everyone we meet.

The evidence of a culture bent on denying God and glorifying humanity is all around us. Division, hate, lust, conflict, greed, violence, and on and on, are prominently displayed and widely encouraged. The unavoidable problem we face in idolizing humanity is the corruption of human nature. Whether orchestrating on an international level or exploding in pockets of chaos, humanity is poorly equipped to build a better future on our own. This goes back to my earlier point, that Western thought – and ultimately, Western civilization – does not have direction because it does not know the destiny toward which it is aimed. Therefore, beware the claim “for the good of humanity.” It seldom has anything to do with the good of human beings in particular because, designed by the smartest or the most powerful or the richest, the future reflects the designers’ plans, not people who live today. Human ambition and arrogance seek to build utopia, a counterfeit of the forgotten paradise of God’s Garden and the promised restoration of paradise to come.

History belongs to God, not to us, and the fact is, history is unfolding as God wills and as God allows, His sole intent being to draw people to Him. We contribute to history either positively or negatively depending upon whether we are living in the context of our destiny in Jesus Christ. Whatever redirects us from Christ – from truth, from beauty and goodness, from grace and forgiveness – is meant for our destruction and the destruction of those around us.

Creation was God’s idea, not the scientist’s. Bronze and iron were created by God before there were human beings to discover them, just as the stars and galaxies were strewn across the heavens before we had telescopes to look. From the moment the Word spoke and creation came to be until the moment the trumpet blows and lightning flashes across the sky to announce the Lord’s return, creation and everything in it belong to God.

The Ascension of Jesus Christ reveals a world beyond the one we see, the reality in which the Creator and the creation are reunited. And there… there we will see God face to face. For this union we were created, for this end we are destined. One day, we will see this world in its true created form, just as we one day will see one another in our true created form filled with the glory of Christ’s light and life.

Let us live today – every day – in preparation for our destiny. As participants in our destiny, we should tell others, too, that they are invited to a destiny beyond their most spectacular dreams and expectations! In the days ahead, we are going to need to be reminded and to remind others.

In Christ

Rev. Elizabeth Moreau

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